Thought Prison

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Wherever there is attachment
Associated with it
Brings endless misery.

Gampopa, The Jewel Ornament of Liberation

Your ego is a set of thoughts that define your universe. It’s like a familiar room built of thoughts; you see the universe through its windows. You are secure in it, but to the extent that you are afraid to venture outside, it has become a prison. Your ego has you conned. You believe you need its specific thoughts to survive. The ego controls you through your fear of loss of identity. To give up these thoughts, it seems, would annihilate you, and so you cling to them.

There is an alternative. You needn’t destroy the ego to escape its tyranny. You can keep this familiar room to use as you wish, and you can be free to come and go. First you need to know that you are infinitely more than the ego room by which you define yourself. Once you know this, you have the power to change the ego from prison to home base.

Consider awakening on a usual morning. The alarm clock rings, you come out of sleep, focus enough to think “Alarm clock,” and reach over to turn it off. Your thoughts might go something like this:

“It’s time to get up. I have to go to the toilet. It’s warm in here. Do I smell coffee perking? I could still sleep for ten more minutes. Oh, I forgot to do the dishes last night. I need to go to the toilet. Gee, my mouth tastes awful. I could still sleep for ten more minutes. What was I dreaming about? Who was that person in my dream? Wonder if it’s warm outside. Boy, I’m hungry. What’s that sound in the other room? I really need to go to the toilet. God, I wish I could stay in bed all day.”

Thought after thought with the rapidity of a trip-hammer. Thoughts about what you hear, what you taste, what you smell, what you see, what you feel, what you remember, what you plan. On and on they go. A raging roaring river of thoughts pouring through you: “Think of me, think of me, think of me, me, me, me, me first, think of me.” And so it goes all day, until you go to sleep.

You are totally in the control of your senses and thoughts. The alarm sounds and captures your attention, draws your awareness to it. But “you” are not your ears hearing the clock. You are awareness attending to your ears hearing. It’s like when you’re reading something so absorbing that you fail to hear someone enter the room. The sound of their steps triggers the process of hearing, yet you do not “hear.” For you are busy reading and thinking. Just as you are not your ears hearing, you are not your other senses either. You are not the eyes seeing, nose smelling, tongue tasting, or skin feeling. Only your thoughts are left. Here is where most people cannot escape. For they identify totally with their thoughts. They are unable to separate pure awareness from the thoughts that are its objects. Meditation allows you to break this identification between awareness and the objects of awareness. Your awareness is different from both your thoughts and your senses. You can be free to put your awareness where you will, instead of it being grabbed, pushed, and pulled by each sense impression and thought. Meditation frees your awareness.

A being whose awareness is totally free, who does not cling to anything, is liberated.

– Ram Dass

Photo by Kamilla Oliveira via Flickr. Used under the creative commons license.

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